- Eric Raskin, Boxing
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It was just a week ago that, along with everyone else with even a passing interest in the sport of basketball, I found myself asking, "Who is that idiot who voted for Carmelo Anthony over LeBron James for NBA Most Valuable Player?"
Turns out there were four fingers pointing back at me and I'm the idiot.
To clarify, I'm not the guy who cast a vote for 'Melo. But if being the lone dissenter on a sports media panel makes you an idiot in the minds of the majority, then I'm just as bumbling.
Granted, the sole Carmelo-over-LeBron voice was heard among 120 other voters, which makes for a much sorer thumb than being the contrarian among a field of 10. But I'm a sore thumb just the same, the only one of ESPN.com's 10 pound-for-pound voters who still ranks Andre Ward No. 1.
Going into Floyd Mayweather Jr.'s May 4 fight with Robert Guerrero, there were three of us. But Teddy Atlas and Joe Tessitore both abandoned me and moved Mayweather back into their respective top spots a week ago, and when the new rankings were published, there was Floyd with 99 of a possible 100 points. I was suddenly the only thing preventing him from being a unanimous choice.
It's a bit uncomfortable knowing every one of your peers (at least among these nine particular peers) disagrees with you. But I stand by my rankings. I don't dispute Mayweather's ability in the least and I understand why most people rank him No. 1, but I still believe Ward is the best boxer in the world, pound for pound, at this moment.
I actually wrote a year ago on Grantland, just prior to Mayweather's fight with Miguel Cotto, that I felt Ward might already be the best in the business, only without the signature win to justify ranking him No. 1. A few months later, Ward, the lineal champ at super middleweight, dominated and stopped Chad Dawson, the lineal champ at light heavyweight. He had the signature win. He validated my suspicions. He became, for me, a downright obvious choice, particularly with Mayweather having struggled more than most observers expected he would with a past-prime Cotto.
Against Guerrero, Mayweather gave one of the more sterling performances of his lengthy career and erased the doubts raised by the Cotto fight. But was one great performance against a solid opponent enough to change the order at the top for those who previously favored Ward? Especially given that Ward's most recent performance was even more dominant, much more physically destructive, and came against Dawson, a better all-around fighter than Guerrero? For me, no. Not quite.
Part of the argument against Ward is that he's coping with injuries, hasn't fought in eight months and probably won't fight for another three or four months. That's fair, and if his inactivity extends to a full year, he'll need to be dropped from the rankings, per ESPN.com guidelines, at that time.
But if we look at recent history -- not just the last few months when Ward hasn't fought, but going back to the start of Mayweather's un-retirement in 2009 after a 21-month break from the sport -- I believe Ward has the superior résumé.
Mayweather has beaten some high-profile foes, but there are asterisks almost everywhere: He didn't try to make weight for the Juan Manuel Marquez bout, thus gaining an unsportsmanlike advantage he never needed; he sucker-punched Victor Ortiz, again taking a legal but unnecessary shortcut; he got rocked by Shane Mosley; he had a tougher time beating Cotto than Austin Trout did a few months later.
Again, they were all quality wins, and Mayweather is undoubtedly still very close to the peak of his powers. But Dawson, Mikkel Kessler and Carl Froch were all pound-for-pound top-20 fighters when Ward convincingly beat each of them, and in Ward's lesser tests, he might not have lost a round to Allan Green, Sakio Bika or Arthur Abraham. In fact, he hasn't lost more than two rounds to anyone in his entire professional career except for maybe Froch -- who, by the way, currently resides one spot outside ESPN.com's current P4P top 10.
Stylistically, Mayweather fights in a manner that makes his greatness more obvious, more tangible. There's an aesthetic beauty to the way he boxes that Ward lacks. Ward doesn't have Mayweather's ridiculous hand speed or reflexes. But Ward's boxing brain is a wonder. It's perhaps the greatest weapon that exists in boxing today.
Ward fights in a style reminiscent of Bernard Hopkins, mauling and negating and nullifying without producing a preponderance of oohs and aahs. Mayweather, meanwhile, is capable of some of the spectacular displays of athleticism that Roy Jones Jr. used to offer in his prime. It's no surprise that Jones spent a lot more time at No. 1 on the P4P list than Hopkins did. But history will be more kind to Hopkins because history doesn't care as much that his style, like Ward's, is a turn-off to many fans.
Another flaw of most pound-for-pound rankings is that, typically, it takes so long to prove your greatness that it isn't recognized until you've started to decline. Mayweather wasn't considered boxing's pound-for-pound No. 1 when he was at his absolute best, eviscerating Diego Corrales in 2001. He wasn't even No. 2 or 3; most people had the more proven Jones, Shane Mosley and Felix Trinidad ahead of Mayweather after Floyd, in his true prime, scored the greatest victory of his career.
At 29, Ward is currently in his prime. He has sufficiently proven his worth at the elite level to me over the past four years. I'll drop Ward if he isn't ready to fight by September or if, when he does fight, he doesn't perform as effectively as Mayweather did against Guerrero. But for now, to my eyes, Andre Ward is the best there is.
And if all nine of my colleagues at ESPN.com believe differently, that's fine. It doesn't make them wrong. But it doesn't make me wrong, either.
24dBrian Campbell, ESPN staff writer